As many BlueOregon readers know, my wife and I had a happy and healthy baby boy three weeks ago. Of course, we're now loaded down with all the gear - from diapers and baby powder to car-seats and bouncy chairs, not to mention an endless supply of onesies and pacifiers.
In my sleep-deprived state, it's hard enough to figure out how to change Jake's diaper - without having to worry about whether his pacifier is really safe to put in his mouth - or whether his car-seat will really keep him safe in the car.
Should I really have to worry about all that? No, I shouldn't. In this country, we've assigned that job to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Unfortunately, they've been actively working to ignore their critical responsibility.
Meet Nancy Nord.
As the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Nord is in charge of making sure the stuff you buy is safe. Trouble is, these days it isn't. Poisoned toothpaste, poisoned dog food, tainted meat, lead-painted toys, and the real mind-boggler: children's toys that metabolize into a date-rape drug if swallowed! All of these dangerous products have been discovered on America's store shelves within the last year - including over 20 million dangerous children's toys. Sure, they've been recalled, but they should never have made it to the stores in the first place.
Clearly, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been asleep in the guard house. Is it just incompetence? Or is there something more going on here?
According to the Washington Post, between 2002 and 2007, Nancy Nord and her predecessor, Hal Stratton, accepted nearly 30 trips paid for by industries the CPSC regulates. They spent tens of thousands of bucks on airfare, food, and lodging to send Nord and Stratton to China, Spain, San Francisco, New Orleans, and that well-known toy-producing island – Hilton Head, S.C. That trip to Spain cost the toy makers a whopping $18,000 – a nice little vacation for Stratton and CPSC general counsel John G. Mullan. And Nancy Nord doesn't see the conflict of interest!
In an editorial, the WaPo slammed Nord and Stratton for their astonishing behavior:
The Securities and Exchange Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission all ban what the Consumer Product Safety Commission allows.
That commission leaders could not see the appearance problem is just the latest in a string of troubles for the agency. Critics have been dismayed by its limp response to what seems to be weekly recalls of lead-laden toys (20 million toys so far). The commission is half the size it was when it was created in 1973. It has just one toy inspector. But when the Senate Commerce Committee moved last month to increase the agency's budget, authority and staff, Ms. Nord told committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), paraphrasing here, no thanks.
What kind of consumer safety advocate says "no thanks" to a 58% budget increase? Not a very good one. In fact, Nord apparently isn't much of a consumer safety advocate at all. In hindsight, that isn't surprising in light of all the product recalls in recent years.
But an agency head who takes trips and gifts from the very people she's supposed to regulate, and then opposes funding to beef up her agency's oversight capacity. Something is very rotten.
Thankfully, Oregon's own Rep. Darlene Hooley is a member of the Energy and Commerce committee, which oversees the CPSC. And Hooley has had enough. Last month, Hooley introduced a "no confidence" resolution calling for Nord's removal:
"Chairman Nord has demonstrated that she is unfit to lead the CPSC and unable to protect the American people from the threats posed by an increasingly global marketplace," said Hooley. "President Bush should demand Chairman Nord's resignation and appoint a new head of the CPSC who is willing and capable of leading the agency."
Public corruption has become so commonplace in this Bush Administration that it is hardly news anymore. But this time, we're not talking about the misuse of public dollars; we're talking about endangering people's lives. And for what? Free vacations? Is nothing sacred anymore?
It is a sad state of affairs in this country when the head of a federal agency gets busted for taking free trips and other goodies from corporations seeking influence – and no one bats an eyelash.